|Wichita State is in the Final Four as a No. 9 seed, but don't confuse them with a Cinderella. (usatoday.com)|
The Wichita State Shockers are a No. 9 seed in the Final Four, but don't call them Cinderella. This is more a goal than a fairy tale for the Shockers.
Sure, not many were picking Wichita State to be in Atlanta, but this is not a team that came out of nowhere from a no-name conference to steal the spotlight and pull a few upsets.
The Missouri Valley Conference has a great track record of getting teams into and winning games in the NCAA Tournament. Wichita went overlooked in the regular season because the MVC also has a mid-major powerhouse and national player of the year candidate with Doug McDermott at Creighton. The Shockers also didn't play the toughest schedule, but did beat VCU on the road and Creighton when the Blue Jays were ranked No. 12.
Still, if this is the first you're hearing of them, you weren't paying close enough attention.
No, this isn't a Cinderella. This is a team built for success in March.
This is a team that expects to win and will come out hitting teams in the mouth, which is evident in its strong, tough play. The physicality is most notable in the rebounding category, where the Shockers ranked No. 27 in the country this year with 38.4 per game, yet the two forwards logging the most minutes are only 6-foot-8. Carl Hall is the leading board grabber on the team, averaging 7.2 rpg, and Cleanthony Early is second with just over five, only accounting for about 31 percent of the team's average rebounds. Head coach Gregg Marshall has made rebounding a team effort and fundamental instilled in every player.
This is a team with senior leadership from Hall and Malcolm Armstead – who paid his own way to WSU by working at a car dealership – a junior in Cleanthony Early, who made the most of his junior college days getting better. Also logging key minutes are a pair of freshmen, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, who have shown no fear of the big stage in the tournament. Armstead was the third-leading scorer on the team during the regular season, averaging 10.9 ppg, yet has been the leading scorer in three of the four NCAA Tournament games.
This is a team that has been efficient on offense, not shooting less than 35 percent from the field since the tourney began and not turning the ball over more than 15 times in a game. The Shockers will need that efficiency against Louisville, which will be by far the toughest defense the Shockers have faced this season.
This is a team that, like fellow Final Four contenders Louisville and Syracuse, had a three-game losing streak at some point in the regular season, yet regained momentum toward the end of the season and never lost faith. The schedule is long and the play of the first part of the season is almost irrelevant. What matters is now, and the Shockers are as good as anyone in the country.
This is not a team like many high seeds that find success; it's not an undersized, scrappy group that relies on making a ton of 3-pointers to stay in the game. Wichita State has strong players that will battle inside but can score in a variety of ways and can suffocate opponents on the defensive end.
The Shockers do have one quality in common with typical Cinderellas; they don't see themselves as underdogs. This team knows it can beat you and that kind of confidence can go a long way.
But no, this isn't Cinderella. This is a Wichita State team that has dominated its run to the Final Four by playing like the power teams.
This is a team built for success in March and has proven it.
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